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Friday Notes: Vickers Vaults to Pole At Michigan

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 14 2009
Brian Vickers took the pole at Michigan.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images)

Brian Vickers took the pole at Michigan. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

Brooklyn, Mich. – Brian Vickers put a small dent in Mark Martin’s storybook season Friday afternoon when he edged the 50-year-old veteran to win the pole for Sunday’s CARFAX 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

It was Vickers’ sixth pole this year and eleventh of his career.

“I was just talking to Robin Pemberton (of NASCAR) and we were talking about the poles this season,” said the 25-year-old Vickers, whose lone Sprint Cup win came at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2006.

“I told him ‘you know, you never let your good thing (slip) away. But I’d probably give up every one of them for a win.’”

Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five.

Vickers couldn’t resist taking a jab at Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford after winning the pole at a track located less than an hour from Detroit.

“I don’t know if this is the Big Three’s home or not,” Vickers said. “I guess a couple of them are based out of Washington, D.C. now.”

Tony Raines was the only driver that failed to qualify for Sunday’s 400.

Kasey Kahne, who won the Sprint Cup pole and race here in June 2006, suffered a blown engine in his No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge 20 minutes into Friday’s first Sprint Cup practice on the 2-mile oval. He will start Sunday’s race in the rear of the field.

“I had about four laps before it broke,” said Kahne, who was using one of Dodge’s new R6 engines. “The engine broke pretty big. They’re saying it was a piston. When NASCAR gives them the ok to take the engine apart and go through it, we can kind of see why it happened.”

After being released from Phoenix Racing two weeks ago, veteran driver Mike Bliss found employment earlier this week with…Phoenix Racing.

Bliss was sixth in points in the Nationwide Series when he was dismissed as driver of the James Finch-owned No. 1 Chevrolet before that circuit’s visit to Iowa Speedway earlier this month.

But in a bizarre turn of events, he was offered the opportunity to drive Finch’s No. 09 Dodge in Sunday’s CARFAX 400. Bliss has six starts in that car this season.

“They just called the other day and said James still wants you to run some Cup races,” said Bliss, who is scheduled to drive Joe Nemechek’s No. 87 Chevrolet in Saturday’s CARFAX 250 Nationwide Series event.

“And I need the work, so I said ‘yeah.’”

Tony Stewart became the first driver to clinch a spot in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup following his win at Watkins Glen International on Monday.

The two-time Cup champion maintains that three drivers from the Hendrick Motorsports stable are the ones to beat for this year’s title.

“It’s hard to not sit here and say that Jeff and Jimmie and Mark aren’t the favorites at this point,” Stewart said. “And I feel like that we’re right there too. But Jimmy’s history speaks for itself, and so does Jeff. And Mark’s performance this year has been phenomenal. It’s hard to not consider those guys the three favorites.

“But you look at somebody like Denny Hamlin. He’s a guy that can come in there and put 10 weeks together. And I don’t think you can count anybody out from Roush. When it comes time for the Chase, it’s like they always have their game picked up.”

Following a horrific crash with Sam Hornish Jr. at Watkins Glen on Monday, Jeff Gordon showed up at Michigan on Friday still nursing a sore back.

“It’s alright, just a couple of rough days but feeling pretty good,” he said. “You know, it was a hard hit. I feel like we’ve done a great job with head, neck, shoulders and hips. But the last couple of hits I’ve had have really affected my midsection, especially my back.

“So it’s something we are going to look into for the future. I took a shot and worked through it the next couple of days and am here, ready to go.”

Third-year Sprint Cup driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who is seventh in the Chase standings, says he supports NASCAR’s ban on testing.

“I think you should be allowed to do a little preseason testing, but once the season starts it should be the same way it is right now,” Montoya said. “Most of the cars get maybe one, sometimes two tests for tire testing. And that’s it. And Goodyear is flexible enough that sometimes you can get some work done.

“You could be testing everyday and learn and learn, but you can only get to a point where the amount of dollar you’re spending on performance increases because you’re not going to find things so easy.”

If Atlanta Motor Speedway is searching for a pitchman to promote the Pep Boys Auto 500 on Labor Day weekend, they should turn to Carl Edwards.

The 1.54-mile oval, the site of Edwards’ first Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series wins, has always been one of his favorite stops. He can hardly wait to participate in the speedway’s first Cup night race next month.

“Darlington was my favorite race track to drive,” Edwards said. “But they repaved it and now it’s a little less racy and a little less dynamic.

“But Atlanta still has the bumps, the tires go away and the pavement is slick. That’s probably the most fun oval we go to and race on.”

Montoya flew to Memphis, Tenn. following Monday’s race in Watkins Glen, N.Y. to visit a local hospital and the Target House.

On Tuesday, he had a chance to visit the late Elvis Presley’s residence known as Graceland.

“We went there with some family and some friends,” Montoya said. “It was pretty cool, but it was a really, really tacky house. For the time and where he was and everything, that was cool. But there was a yellow room and this and that. It was different.”

So was the king of rock’s home in Memphis tackier than the house in Montoya’s chewing gum television commercials?

“I would say so,” Montoya said with a laugh.

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 14 2009
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